As Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s humiliation in New York levels out into web-chat and news about the news, the undead are on the move. You saw nothing with fangs, in a cape, hovering in the near distance when the fourth estate held up the mirror to human nature in the wake of the gruesome Sofitel encounter? That’s because it didn’t cast a reflection. The internet, which never sleeps, has made it clearer now: the real beast in this story is racism.
Earlier this month, SlateAfrique asked a range of punters and luminaries in the US and France what would have happened if Nafissatou Diallo, the Sofitel maid, had been ‘a blue-eyed blonde’. Two Diallos, one of them a cousin, another who runs a café in Harlem, were confident things would have come out differently. Diallo 1: ‘They wouldn’t have thrown her in the dustbin the way they did.’ Diallo 2: ‘If she’d been white and Jewish, she wouldn’t have had that kind of treatment.’ And later: ‘The whole Jewish lobby is behind it.’
Really? So it’s not just a case of ordinary white-and-black racism: there’s also a conspiracy of Jews. Strauss-Kahn is a magnet for anti-semitism. Check RadioIslam, long before the Sofitel affair, on DSK and other influential Jews in France. Move the cursor west, post-Sofitel, and catch the ghastly glow from the economics department at George Mason University alerting readers to ‘the depraved nature of any rich, socialist Jew who would ruthlessly ravage a poor, devout Muslim maid’.
Here are a few impartial details about DSK. He has been a fierce supporter of Israel for forty years. In the late 1970s he was one of the founders of Socialisme et Judaïsme, set up to bring French Jewish voters to the Parti socialiste and build support for Israel. He and his wife Anne Sinclair are honorary members of the Léon Blum circle, an anti-populist Republican association whose less publicised aim is a rearguard action against dwindling support for Israel on the French left. (Alain Geismar, one of the former leaders of the Maoist GP, or Proletarian Left, is also an honorary member.) On the Sofitel affair: Ben Brafman, DSK’s defence attorney in New York, is another Israel stalwart. You can listen to him on the Israeli consulate website (NYC) explaining that if the Israelis wanted to wipe every inhabitant of Gaza off the map, they could, but they haven’t, so hats off to Israel for restraint. But from there to a conspiracy?
Whatever was asked of DSK in this unfunny bedroom farce, his wardrobe was simple: lounge suit or birthday suit. But the press and the lawyers ran Diallo offstage left and onstage right at a frantic pace, always with a complicated costume change. First she was a cleaner in a Sofitel apron, going about her business with lowered eyes, surprised by an incontinent guest. Then she had to play it again in oriental style as a Muslim maid violated by a Jew. In re-enactment three, the pageant, she starred as Africa south of the Sahara – Diallo as 800 million people, forced to their knees by the IMF in a parable about conditional lending. (In the same scene, DSK – a reformer during his time at the Fund – reverts, in the manner of Mr Kurtz.)
At length, under pressure from Brafman’s legal team, Diallo was kitted out in rags and shoved on as a witch who’d charmed her way into the West. Hadn’t she tried to lodge a bogus asylum claim? Hadn’t she already cried rape in her enchantment of US immigration, destroying all traces of her broomstick and flushing her muti down the toilet of the airliner? To cap it all, wasn’t she a petty lowlife – enter Diallo, finally, in a tracksuit with a tote bag full of cellphones – plotting with a jailed boyfriend hours after the scene in the hotel?
In France there’s a lingering suspicion that Strauss-Kahn was set up. His pyrotechnic drives are legendary: did an enemy light the blue touch-paper and retire? But the test of the race angle lies elsewhere. This week a longstanding claim by the writer Tristane Banon that DSK tried to rape her during an interview in 2003 went to the wire, as accuser and accused appeared together before police investigators in Paris. (She says he never looked at her during the two-hour meeting.) One way the law could take it from here would be to appoint a judge with a view to a rape trial. Another would be to flip the case into the archive, having concluded that this was not rape, but ‘sexual aggression’. A complaint of sexual aggression must be lodged within three years of the day in question, meaning that Banon’s would be five years past its judge-by date.
The smart money says there will be no criminal trial. If so, that’s a stake through the heart of the race reading: Banon is not some marginal from Guinea who can be kicked into the long grass, she is a class act from Neuilly-sur-Seine. But if the case did go forward, SlateAfrique’s question would begin to look like an astute one and there’d be many more voices to take up the cry of racism.